Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Jean-Claude hits the border in 'The Shepherd'

The Shepherd (aka "Border Patrol") (2007)
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Gary McDonald, Natalie Robb, Scott Adkins, and Stephen Lord
Director: Isaac Florentine
Rating: Seven of Ten Stars

Jack (Van Damme), a New Orleans cop transplanted to New Mexico and working as a border patrol agent runs headlong into a group of former American Special Forces who have turned to crime and used extreme violence and connections gained in Afghanistan to take control of the drug operations in the area.

"The Shepherd" is a rarity among films starring the big action heroes of the 1980s and 1990s, such as Steven Seagal and Wesley Snipes: This direct-to-DVD action flick is every bit as good as the movies Jean-Claude Van Damme starred in when he was packing them into the multiplexes. Where Wesley Snipes has degenerated to the point where he's a self-parody and Steven Seagal has long gone beyond being an obect of pity to someone who should be ashamed to show his face anywhere, yet along appear in movies, Van Damme appears to still be able to choose good projects to be involved with.

While the film's bad guys are somewhat bland and not terribly smart (how smart can someone be who allies themselves with Afghan drug lords and doesn't take steps to squirrel money away if things go sour?) and the director is a bit too in love with slow-motion scenes (to the point of an obession that almost ruins the film's climax), the script features some neat action and decent martial arts fights scenes, is humorous where it needs to be and deadly serious when appropriate, and moves along at a pace fast enough that you don't have time to think about some of the stupider moments in the film. (The exception being when Jack is tossed in a Mexican prison and forced to participate in an extreme fighting bout.)

All-in-all, Jean-Claude Van Damme's career may have suffered a downturn, but he is still an action star who, like Jackie Chan, is aging gracefully. If you enjoyed him in films like "Hard Target", "Double Impact", or even "Sudden Death", you'll feel a warm wave of nostalgia wash over you as watch this film and discover that the Lionheated-one still has some kick in him!

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